Thomas Blank, a former lobbyist and Republican official, was recently appointed to serve as the chief of staff to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency charged with investigating and enforcing immigration-related matters for the Department of Homeland Security.
There was no public press release and no announcement to mark the senior appointment. Rather, the only official acknowledgement of Blank’s new post was found through a quiet update to the ICE leadership website this week.
“Thomas Blank’s appointment as Chief of Staff for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was finalized on Wednesday, July 12,” said ICE Assistant Director for Public Affairs Liz Johnson, in a statement to The Intercept.
“Information about his appointment was then sent internally to staff and posted on the ICE.gov website, as is standard practice. Since Mr. Blank did not represent clients with ICE interests and never lobbied the agency, there are no conflict of interest concerns with Mr. Blank’s former employment.”
Blank arrived to ICE after working for over a decade as a corporate lobbyist, helping corporate contractors secure business before the agency he now leads. As the vice chairman of the lobby shop Wexler & Walker, Blank “established the firm’s growing Homeland Security Practice by building a base of clients with policy and business development interests on Capitol Hill, in The White House, and before the Departments of Homeland Security and Transportation.”
Blank’s ICE biography makes a passing reference to his 12-year lobbying career, noting that he “provided private sector consulting services in business development primarily for the security technology industry.”
Records show Blank attempted to influence lawmakers and homeland security officials on behalf of a number of government contractors. His clients included firms such as the company formerly known as Taser International, the manufacturer of electronic shock weapons used by law enforcement as an alternative to firearms. Another former Blank client, Assuretec Inc., specializes in facial recognition and identity authentication.
Notably, Chad Wolf, another prominent Homeland Security lobbyist appointed this year by the Trump administration to the Department of Homeland Security, was Blank’s colleague on a number of lobbying campaigns. The pair registered to lobby on behalf of Analogic Corp., a baggage screening company, which sought a bid for lucrative contracts with the Transportation Security Administration.
Blank, before his career as an influence peddler, worked as a staffer to then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, and after that, as a senior official in the George W. Bush administration. He assisted with the creation of the Office of Transportation Security Policy, the sub-agency that developed security procedures for the Transportation Security Administration after the attacks of September 11. Like many officials charged with overseeing the growth of the post-9/11 TSA, Blank transitioned afterwards to the private security industry to help business interests cash in on new contracts.
Blank has also worked for former Democratic lobbyist Dick Gephardt at his firm, Gephardt Government Affairs, and through a firm founded by Blank called Belvedere Strategies. Last year, Blank signed a contract, through a partnership with Gephardt Government Affairs, to lobby on behalf of the government of Turkey to assist with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s outreach efforts in Washington.
The appointment is the latest in a long procession of revolving door hires. President Donald Trump has filled his government with former corporate lobbyists overseeing key decisions on matters from agriculture to health to financial regulation to military acquisition and beyond.
Homeland security lobbyists have played a pivotal role in shaping the administration’s agenda in particular. As we’ve reported, lobbyists for businesses involved in immigrant detention and mass surveillance have won political appointments to ICE and DHS. Secretary John Kelly, the head of the agency, failed to publicly disclose his own financial ties to security contractors during the confirmation process.